Tuesday, September 5, 2006
Steamboat Springs The story of two Rainbow Family gatherers sentenced to six months in jail for stealing produce from a Steamboat Springs store's garbage can continues to grab attention - and headlines.
Media outlets across the country are picking up the story, and many e-mailers and bloggers are threatening to boycott Steamboat and other Colorado towns and businesses because of what they are calling an abuse of the justice system.
In part because of a link from the Drudge Report, a popular political blog, steamboatpilot.com received an estimated 32,000 hits Sunday, forcing the newspaper's Web site to crash for a short time Monday morning. The Web site typically receives about 6,000 hits a day.
Giles Charle, 24, of Somersworth, N.H., and David Siller, 27, of Wayne, Pa., were sentenced to six months in jail last week after they pleaded guilty to misdemeanor trespass. The men admitted to taking $15 worth of rotting produce from a garbage can at Sweet Pea Produce on Yampa Street in June. The men were on their way to the Rainbow Family gathering in North Routt County.
The plea agreement was reached with Assistant District Attorney Kerry St. James. The men were facing a felony charge of second-degree burglary and accepted the plea to keep the felony off their records. Neither has a criminal history.
Charle and Siller said from Routt County Jail on Monday that they were excited to hear of the national attention their story is getting.
"It's great to feel so supported, but at the same time, we're not getting our hopes up," Charle said. "In some ways, it's actually making our stay (at the jail) harder now."
The outrage caused by the jail sentence has spurred hundreds of reader comments on steamboatpilot.com, and one Colorado man has created a "Free Charle and Siller" page on his Colorado Freedom Group Web site. The page includes a link to a "Hunger is Not a Crime" petition urging residents and local officials to push for an overturn of the jail sentence. The page is at www.rebelgraphics.org/coloradofreedom.html.
Richard Myers, the Denver man who created the Web pages, said by e-mail Monday night that it has been his lifelong pursuit to seek justice, and that is why he has taken on the plight of Charle and Siller.
"Much of my activism is centered upon the question of obtaining justice for the little guy, frequently against an impervious bureaucracy that only claims to cherish real human values," Myers wrote. "I've always been for the underdog, for the down and outer, because that's the American way."
Myers said his role in the case is simple.
"Those of us who use e-mail, blogs, newsgroups and listservs to discuss and publicize the issue (are) simply facilitating communication, helping the citizens of Steamboat Springs to discover how the rest of the country feels about six months in jail for Dumpster diving," he wrote. "This story has legs that are capable of climbing right over the Continental Divide and kicking some doors in."
There are some indications that the attention the story is receiving could come back to haunt Routt County. Some posters and e-mailers are threatening to boycott Steamboat Springs, and some have indicated they will use their businesses and professions to urge others to follow suit.
"We need to keep in mind that tourism is our No. 1 industry," said Riley Polumbus, spokeswoman for the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association. "Because so many of our residents directly and indirectly depend on tourism, we need to keep that in mind when we're making decisions.
"This decision does not reflect the feelings of this community, because we're known as a friendly community."
Polumbus, who was out of town for most of the Labor Day weekend, said she could not comment further on the case or what effects it might have on the community.
While some are calling for a regional and state boycott, others are urging St. James and 14th Judicial District Attorney Bonnie Roesink to revisit the case or resign. Neither St. James nor Roesink could be reached for comment Monday.
Roesink is scheduled to appear before the Routt County Board of Commissioners at 10 a.m. today to discuss budget items and new furniture for the Justice Center.
Routt County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said she doubts the board will address the Charle/Siller case with Roesink during the meeting unless fellow commissioners Doug Monger and Dan Ellison opt to do so.
"I doubt we'd jump into the middle of something where we have no jurisdiction," she said. "We're not in the habit of telling a judge how to rule or telling a prosecutor who and who not to prosecute. That's their job, not ours."
- To reach Alexis DeLaCruz, call 871-4234 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org